The opening of the 12th Gas Exporting Countries’ Forum in Cairo was marked by the absence of officials from Qatar, where the group has its headquarters, in a possible sign of their displeasure over Libya’s attendance.
Qatar’s energy minister, Mohammed Saleh al Sada, was due to attend the meeting today and address a news conference this afternoon. As of 12:30 p.m. in Cairo, no Qatari delegation had arrived. It was unclear if Qatar would attend later in the day.
Forum representatives refused to say if Qatar was boycotting the meeting due to the presence of an official from the government of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. Qatar supports Libyan rebels fighting forces loyal to Qaddafi.
The Qataris may be staying away from the forum “as a statement to warn what could happen in OPEC if Qaddafi is allowed to represent Libya in that organization,” said Samuel Ciszuk, a Mideast energy analyst at IHS Global Insight in London. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries plans to meet on June 8 in Vienna to review production targets.
Qatar may want to send a message to OPEC that next week’s “crucial meeting could be seriously weakened if the Libyan government is allowed continued representation,” Ciszuk said by telephone.
An official at state-run energy company Qatar Petroleum declined to comment when asked about the Qatari absence. Leonid Bokhanovsky, the forum’s secretary general, attributed Qatar’s absence to “extraordinary circumstances,” without elaborating.
The Libyan representative, Mosbah Ali Matoug, attended the gas forum today and sat behind a miniature green flag of the Qaddafi regime. Matouq declined to comment on Qatar’s absence.
Supporting Libyan Rebels
Qatar, the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas, has supplied fighter jets to support NATO’s campaign to protect civilians in Libya from Qaddafi’s troops. Qatar recognizes the rebels’ National Transitional Council based in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.
The forum, an 11-nation group controlling two-thirds of the world’s proven natural gas reserves, is based in Qatar’s capital city, Doha. It brings together some of the world’s biggest exporters in the same way OPEC groups oil producers. OPEC has as a history of continuing to meet even if member nations were at war, as it did during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1991.
Organizers of the gas forum yesterday removed a welcome banner that included a flag used by Libyan rebels, amid uncertainty over which officials would represent the North African nation at energy events.
The flag used by the National Transitional Council of the Libyan Republic, the rebel movement that formed in February, has red, black and green horizontal panels with a white crescent and star in the middle, while the official Qaddafi government flag is plain green.
The banner was removed from near the entrance of the JW Marriott hotel, where the forum is meeting, and replaced with one sporting a plain green flag instead.
The forum’s 11 members, aside from Qatar and Libya, are Algeria, Bolivia, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Iran, Nigeria, Russia, Trinidad & Tobago and Venezuela. Kazakhstan, the Netherlands and Norway have observer status.